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Monday, September 17, 2012

Barcelona & The Charms of a Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter Barcelona CREDIT

  The trip advisor listing for the Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is ranked as the #4 attraction in Barcelona in their ranking system, with a total of 2079 Reviews and a four and a half star average.  Attractions Number one, two & three are Church of the Sacred Family, Palace of Catlan Music & Casa Batllo- all three of those are designated world heritage sights, by the way.

 The Gothic Quarter/Barri Gotic in Barcelona definetly exists- it is easy to see on a map of Barcelona:

View Larger Map

   It's the area in Barcelona that isn't laid out on Diagonal/Horizontal street grid, and when you leave the areas that diverge from that pattern of urban settlement, you are "in" the Gothic Quarter.  The Gothic Quarter is so named because of the Architecture.  If you want to understand "Gothic Architecture" and why it is the #4 attraction in Barcelona, John Ruskin and The Stones of Venice is the place to start because Ruskin really laid the ground work for modern art criticism, and The Stones of Venice is his biggest hit about Gothic Architecture in Venice.
Barri Gotic: Example of Gothic Architecture

  The Gothic Revival that Ruskin epitomized was actually a century old by the time Stones of Venice was published in the early 1850s, but he certainly outclassed architecture critics of his time.  Ruskin listed six characteristics of Gothic architecture:

1. Savageness.
2. Changefulness.
3. Naturalism.
4. Grotesquenes.
5. Rigidity.
6. Redundance.

   The Gothic Revival was itself part of a larger celebration of a Medieval Times that encompassed non-Gothic Revival art like the books of Sir Walter Scott.

 Today Gothic Architecture is generally considered to include, a fusion of several main elements: diagonal ribs, pointed arches and flying buttresses. (!)

   A 2006 ranking of annual tourist visitors had Barcelona in the solid 10 spot between Seoul and Dublin and in the neighborhood of both Rome and Toronto.  I would say approximately 100% of the tourists who visit Barcelona go to the Gothic Quarter.  San Diego is 88 on the same chart, Vegas is in the 40s, etc.

  So why is the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona so popular?  I think it's because it successfully transmits a hygienic  version of a fantastic world, similar to the experience that you have at a theme park like Disneyland.  Through out my treks through the Barcelona's Gothic Quarter I kept wondering what Disneyland could do with a location like the Gothic Quarter. It's not like the Gothic Quarter is any way less touristy then a place like San Francisco's fisherman's wharf, but man, is it popular!  There are like five million people a year tromping through the Gothic Quarter.

 Don't get me wrong- I believe Barcelona's Gothic Quarter is a spectacular attraction, but I would attribute much of the appeal to the different street lay out- narrower, with fewer opportunities for cars and modern hygiene standards (The garbage disposal system in central Barcelona races around at 3 AM whisking away the formidable trash generated by 5 million tourists a year.)

  And despite the repeated advisals we got from everyoe re: pickpockets- I got my cell phone stolen out of the Marques De Riscal Hotel in Elciego- Barcelona was so safe and bright and shiny that it reminded me of a police state.   During our visit we witnessed one actual street blocking protest, and two days after we left there was a rally of 1.5 million for Catalan Independence- so it seemed like a lively place outside of tourism. Real energy, and the Gothic Quarter, for better or worse, is the beating heart of the city in ways that are different from its tourist attraction status.


(1) Richmond Museum in England. (11/27/11)

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